Posts tagged Patrick Mythen
Thanksgiving Day as it is constituted as a civil holiday in the United States (and Canada) is not specifically found on the Orthodox liturgical calendar, but that doesn’t mean that Orthodox Christians in North America have ignored it. Here’s a notice from the New York Tribune for a Thanksgiving Divine Liturgy held at St. Nicholas Cathedral in 1921, celebrated by Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky and Archimandrite Patrick Mythen.
From all of us here at SOCHA, Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating today!
A lot of us at SOCHA happen to be really busy right now (personally, I’m in the middle of law school exams), so rather than leave you without much to read this week, here’s an article we originally published back in August 2010.
Fr. Kyrill Johnson was one of many fascinating early American converts to Orthodoxy. He was born Arthur Warren Johnson in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1897. I don’t know what happened to his parents, but Johnson was adopted by an unmarried aunt, who raised him in Ipswich. He went to college at William and Mary in Virginia, which is probably where he first encountered the Orthodox Church. One of his classmates was a fellow named Royce Burden, and both were almost certainly students of young Professor Michael Gelsinger.
Arthur Johnson graduated in 1921. The next year, both Burden and Gelsinger were ordained Orthodox priests and assigned to serve in the “English-speaking department” of the Russian Archdiocese. This “department” had its origins in 1905, when Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine converted to Orthodoxy and was charged by St. Tikhon to do “English work.” Irvine died in early 1921, by which point another convert priest, Fr. Patrick Mythen, had taken over the English-speaking department. Mythen brought numerous Americans into the Orthodox Church, but he was wayward and immature, and many of his converts (along with Mythen himself) ultimately left the Church.
I don’t know what role Mythen played in the conversions of Burden, Gelsinger, and Arthur Johnson, but that trio, unlike so many of their fellow 1920s converts, remained in the Church for the rest of their lives. I don’t know exactly when Johnson was ordained, but he was definitely a priest by 1924. The next year, he earned a Master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School.
Johnson — by now Fr. Kyrill — was a celibate priest, and he doesn’t seem to have had a parish in the 1920s. He may have been under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh, who oversaw the English-speaking department (and the American Orthodox Catholic Church, into which the English department morphed), but Johnson’s focus, in those years, seems to have been scholarly pursuits. In the mid-’20s, he was a key part of Harvard expeditions to Mount Athos and Mount Sinai, searching for ancient Biblical manuscripts. He also spent time in Syria, where he discovered rare proto-Semitic inscriptions.
In the early 1930s, Johnson was back in Ipswich, where he published several books on local history. In 1938, he became pastor of St. George Antiochian church in nearby Lawrence, Mass. — as far as I can tell, this was his first parish assignment in at least 14 years as an Orthodox priest. In 1940, he took on another job, becoming the head of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. The organization, which today has the more palatable name “Historic New England,” owns and preserves historic homes and other buildings in New England. The next year, 1941, Metropolitan Antony Bashir elevated Johnson to archimandrite. Johnson lived only six more years, dying in 1947, at the age of just 50.
So far, I’ve basically given you a dry biography of Fr. Kyrill Johnson. What sort of person was he, though? Pat Tyler of the Ipswich Historical Society happened to know Johnson when she was young. A few years ago, she told me, “He lived across the street from me — to the Yankees in town, he was just ‘strange,’ in that black robe.” Later, she added, “I knew him in the 30′s just as the guy across the street – I was just a child. My mother, of course, knew him. She and her friend, Helen, actually spent the night at the beach (Crane’s) with Arthur. I picture the scene as teenagers spouting Shakespeare. And Platonic to the max.”
Here’s another account of Johnson, from the book Becoming What One Is, by Austin Warren: “Friends brought acquaintances; and I remember […] Arthur Johnson of Ipswich, a swarthy, lean, Byzantine-looking bachelor, who, a pure Yankee and reared a Methodist, had become (after an Anglican interlude) an ordained deacon in the Greek Orthodox Church.”
Back in college, Johnson’s class elected him “most eccentric man.” He was extremely involved in his school activities — class historian, student council secretary, associate editor of the student newspaper, editor-in-chief of the college literary magazine. He was in a drama club, manager of the debate council… I could go on, but I think you get the point. He never married, of course, and I get the sense that nobody who knew him was surprised by this fact. He was odd, friendly, bookish. He was also a talented writer.
Of the three William and Mary converts — Johnson, Burden, and Gelsinger — Johnson was clearly the least well-known, and probably the least influential. But he lived a fascinating life, and stands out as one of the few convert priests of the 1920s who remained in the Orthodox Church until the day he died.
March 25, 1886: The future Greek Archbishop and later Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras Spyrou was born. Athenagoras led the Greek Archdiocese from 1930 to 1948, when he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. He served in that position for nearly a quarter-century, until his death in 1972.
March 25, 1891: St. Alexis Toth and his Greek Catholic parish in Minneapolis joined the Russian Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska.
March 22, 1892: The French Orthodox convert priest Fr. Vladimir Guettee died. Guettee had been a respected Roman Catholic historian and Jesuit priest, but through his study of history, he came to believe that the Orthodox Church alone had preserved the true faith. He joined the Russian Church, taking the name “Vladimir,” and published a widely read journal on Orthodoxy which reported on American Orthodox events. He also wrote a lengthy refutation of papal claims, which can be read here.
March 25, 1896: The future hieromartyr Fr. Jacob Korchinsky was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Nicholas Ziorov. Korchinsky’s travels make his fellow circuit-riding priests look wimpy by comparison — Alaska, Canada, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Mexico, Hawaii, the Philippines, Australia, and finally back in his native Odessa (modern Ukraine). At 80, he was executed by the Soviets, and he is now being considered for glorification as a saint. To read more about Korchinsky, check out this article I wrote in 2010.
March 24, 1907: Russian Archbishop Tikhon Bellavin concelebrated his last Divine Liturgy in America, with Bishops Raphael Hawaweeny and Innocent Pustynsky.
March 22, 1908: In Boston, Fr. Theophan Noli celebrated the first-ever liturgy in the Albanian language, anywhere in the world. The service took place in Boston, where Noli was a student at Harvard. To read about that first liturgy in 1908, check out my article from 2010.
March 24, 1918: Almost exactly a decade later, Fr. Theophan Noli was appointed as the administrator of the Albanian Mission under the Russian Archdiocese of North America. Not long afterward, he returned to Albania, became the head of the Albanian Orthodox Church, and finally was elected Prime Minister of Albania. He held that post for five months before he was exiled to America, where he led an Albanian jurisdiction for decades.
March 22, 1925: The former Archimandrite Patrick Mythen died in New York. Two years ago, I wrote about Mythen’s life prior to his conversion to Orthodoxy, and I never got around to telling the rest of the story. So here’s the rest of the story, very briefly: Mythen, an Episcopal priest and former Roman Catholic, converted to Orthodoxy in 1920. Within months, he was elevated to the rank of archimandrite and put in charge of a brand-new project called the American Orthodox Catholic Church of the Transfiguration. This was supposed to be an English-speaking parish for American converts. It didn’t last more than a handful of months, but it included several convert priests, most of whom appear to have been Mythen’s friends. When chaos broke out in the Russian Archdiocese in the early 1920s, Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky relied more and more heavily on Mythen. According to Mythen’s own claims — the accuracy of which is uncertain — he (Mythen) was given power of attorney for the whole Archdiocese. I’ve heard that he even signed clergy ordination certificates. Within a few years, though, Mythen re-converted to Roman Catholicism. He was found dead in 1925, at the age of just 42.
March 25, 1925: Three days later, a man who could not be more different than Mythen — St. Tikhon, by now the Patriarch of Moscow — died in Russia.
March 24, 1935: Bishop Polycarp Morusca was consecrated in Romania to lead the Romanian Diocese in America. He was enthroned in Detroit a few months later, and over the next several years, he did a lot to organize the Romanian Orthodox of America. In 1939, he returned to Romania to attend a session of the Holy Synod, but World War II broke out, and Bishop Polycarp wasn’t able to return to the United States. In 1947, he notified the American diocese that it had been eliminated from the church budget. He was forced to retire, and future heads of the diocese would have to be approved by Romania’s Communist government. In 1951, the American diocese elected the exiled Bishop Valerian Trifa to be the nominal auxiliary to Bishop Polycarp, but given that Bishop Polycarp hadn’t set foot in America in more than a decade, for all intents and purposes Bishop Valerian was the new head of the diocese. Bishop Polycarp died in Romania in 1958.
March 25, 1943: Governor Thomas Dewey of New York signed into law a bill incorporating the Federated Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions of America. The Federation was sort of a primitive version of SCOBA. It included most of the primary Orthodox jurisdictions in America, but there were notable exceptions, including the Russian Metropolia, ROCOR, and the Antiochian Archdiocese of Toledo. In the Federation’s short life — only about a year or so — it achieved some modest but still significant accomplishments. The Federation managed to get Orthodoxy recognized by the Selective Service, exempting Orthodox priests from military service and allowing Orthodox Christians in the military to put “Eastern Orthodox” on their dog tags. It also led to the legal incorporation of several jurisdictions. The Antiochian Archdiocese is still governed by the legislation, from way back in the 1940s. As far as I know, the last meeting of the Federation took place in February 1944, but the Antiochian Metropolitan Antony Bashir kept it going on paper for another 15 or so years, when the dream of the Federation was revived as SCOBA.
March 25, 1998: The renowned church historian Jaroslav Pelikan converted to Orthodoxy. Pelikan was an intellectual giant, a longtime professor at Yale and a prolific writer. He had been well acquainted with Orthodoxy for decades before his conversion, which Fr. John Erickson has described in this way: “In a conversation shortly after his entrance into the Orthodox Church, Jary likened his path to Orthodoxy to that of a pilot who kept circling the airport, looking for a way to land. Orthodox Christians can be thankful that he landed before running out of fuel.” In his later years, Pelikan served as a key member of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Board of Trustees. He died in 2006. For more on Pelikan, read this 2003 article by Fr. John Erickson. I particularly liked this quote from Pelikan, on being a historian: “Everybody else is an expert on the present. I wish to file a minority report on behalf of the past.”
March 20, 2003: The Orthodox Church of Poland formally glorified St. Vasily Martysz, who had once served in America. To read more about St. Vasily, click here.
March 22, 2009: Archbishop Dmitri Royster of Dallas retired as head of the OCA Diocese of the South.
We here at SOCHA would like to wish you and yours, Irish or not, a happy St. Patrick’s Day! And who better to portray those wishes than a figure we have written quite extensively about, Fr. Patrick Mythen. A proud descendent of the Irish political figure Henry Grattan, Mythen spent a good portion of his life working for various Irish political causes, most especially with the Protestant Friends of Irish Freedom.
Upon his conversion to Orthodoxy in 1920, the former Rev. James Grattan Mythen took the name Patrick as an expression of his Irish heritage. It should come as no surprise, then, that Mythen loved St. Patrick’s Day. Ninety years ago today, in 1922, Archimandrite Patrick, then Vicar General of the Russian Archdiocese of North America, led the Protestant Friends of Irish Freedom’s battalion (with band) in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from all of us here at SOCHA!
I’ve written more words about Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine than about any other historical figure. Irvine was an Episcopal priest who converted to Orthodoxy in 1905, was ordained by St. Tikhon, and played a major role in American Orthodoxy until his death in January 1921. He was a trusted assistant to St. Raphael Hawaweeny, and he was the chief advocate of the use of English in Orthodox worship. Irvine’s significance to American Orthodox history is difficult to overstate.
I’m now working on a book about Irvine. No specifics yet, but I plan to finish it by the time I graduate from law school in a year. I’ve slowly begun to review my sources on Irvine, and I stumbled onto a really, really strange bit of information.
Irvine died in Brooklyn on January 23, 1921. The first obituary was published the next day, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. This obituary seems to have been the main source for the obituaries that appeared in numerous other papers in the following days. Here’s the weird part:
The Rev. Dr. Ingram N.W. Irvine, 71 years old, in charge of the English division of the Eastern Holy Orthodox Catholic Church of America, died on Sunday, of heart trouble, at his residence, 677 Sterling pl. The funeral services will be held tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock, at Dr. Irvine’s late home, the Rev. A.L. Charles, rector of St. Mark’s P.E. Church, officiating, and the internment will follow in Greenwood Cemetery. Dr. Irvine is survived by his wife, Mrs. Emmalena Wilson Irvine, and a daughter, Mrs. Annie Chapin.
There’s not really any question that Irvine remained Orthodox to the end of his life. Even this obituary speaks of him as being the head of the “English division” up to his death. And if you know anything about Irvine, you know that he was a stubborn mule who wouldn’t just cut and run from a church at the first hint of discomfort. I’m 99.9% certain that Irvine did not revert to Episcopalianism in the month before he died.
So why was Irvine’s funeral in his home and not in a church — and why did an Episcopal priest officiate? Apart from the almost impossible prospect of a deathbed apostasy, here are the most likely scenarios I can come up with (with help from Aram Sarkisian and Fr. Oliver Herbel):
1. Irvine’s widow and/or daughter arranged for an Episcopalian funeral. This, in my view, is the most likely scenario. We don’t know much of anything about Emmalena, Irvine’s wife. Yes, she helped Irvine with his teaching ministry, but we don’t even know if she formally converted to Orthodoxy. For all we know, she remained Episcopalian even after her husband’s conversion. As for daughter Annie, she was a very dysfunctional person. It’s a story for another day, but suffice it to say that Annie stole from a lot of people, probably was a con artist, and left her children to be primarily raised by their grandparents (the Irvines). I doubt she’d demand an Episcopalian funeral, but her motives are difficult to follow. In any case, Emmalena and/or Annie may have asked Rev. A.L. Charles of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church to officiate.
2. Irvine himself asked for an Episcopalian funeral, but remained Orthodox. This is less crazy than it sounds. According to Aram Sarkisian’s research, Irvine’s bishop, Abp Alexander Nemolovsky, was in Canada when Irvine died. And Irvine had just been through a bad experience with a failed convert parish led by the erratic Archimandrite Patrick Mythen (who, incidentally, was probably in Canada with Abp Alexander when Irvine died). The nearest Orthodox bishop was the Syrian Bishop Aftimios Ofiesh of Brooklyn — a man Irvine hated. Irvine may have been so upset with the nearby Orthodox authorities that he preferred to be buried in a quiet ceremony officiated (perhaps) by an Episcopal priest that Irvine respected.
3. Irvine had an Orthodox funeral and an Episcopalian memorial service. This theory, suggested by Fr. Oliver, assumes that the newspapers just didn’t know about the Orthodox service. Along similar lines, Fr. Oliver points out that the Orthodox and Episcopalians may have officiated at the same funeral service. After all, in that era, it wasn’t unheard of for Orthodox and Episcopalian priests to officiate at the same marriage ceremony. I find this suggestion somewhat less likely than the possibility of dual funerals, simply because the Episcopalian funeral reported in the Eagle took place at Irvine’s home, rather than a church. Which suggests that it was something less than an “official” event. If Orthodox clergy were involved, why not do it at a church?
Anyway, at this point, we don’t know what was going on with Irvine’s funeral. But the three of us — Fr. Oliver, Aram, and I — are trying to track down what happened.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.